The thrill of discovering a hidden gem is an instant excitement of luck and awe.
At the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, sometimes that means discovering a dog who already knows how to perform a handful of tricks. Or, it could be the giggles that spring up when a staff member discovers a cat who knows how to fetch. Those moments are celebrated and bragged about. But, there is an even more rare hidden gem that is not as publicized – an individual with a specialized skill who openly shares it with our organization.
When it was commonplace to have upwards of 50 people crammed into a room listening about the shelter’s volunteer program, one of my points always centered around the talents in the room. I would let these people who were brand new to our organization know that if they had a special talent or skill they were willing to share, to let me know and I was certain I could find a way they could use it to help the animals in need.
And, it was true, most people sign up to volunteer at their local animal shelter because they want to take dogs out on walks or cuddle fluffy kittens. These are certainly needs felt by every animal shelter, but there is so much more.
Between 7:00 and 11:00 every morning, the shelter is buzzing with staff cleaning the kennels, feeding the animals and passing out medications to the proper cats and dogs. It is certainly the busiest time at the shelter each day. One of the special talents was gifted to our cats. Not only did a volunteer have a steady schedule to help clean the cats’ kennels, she also would enrich their stay by hosting cat play groups. This was an opportunity for the cats to stretch their legs, explore their environment and interact with each other. Shy cats would slowly want to participate with the others. Young cats would spring around the room with excitement and joy. This special talent helped prepare the cats to meet their future families.
Many of the volunteers who work countless hours for the animals prefer to work exclusively with animals. They enjoy the companionship or feel more comfortable interacting with cats and dogs over humans. The volunteers with the special talent to also work with members of the public are a spectacular gem. At the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, our dream is to find a home for each of our animals. Those that have the talent to listen to families, work with our animals and introduce lifelong matches are essential to our mission. One such volunteer was so dedicated to the incredible love the right match bestows, she used her gift to aid a homebound, elder individual find a companion. Through phone conversations she learned about the life in the home, the needs of the individual and what would be realistic expectations. Then, she used her talents working with the animals to see which dog was in need of the same lifestyle and love. After some time, this volunteer was able to drive a chosen dog to the residence for a home visit. The match was successful, and two lives were made better that day.
Sometimes an individual enters the shelter to help and doesn’t even realize their incredible value. The Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter was extremely honored to partner with Ladders for Leaders’ internship program. Our intern focused not on creating new families, but reuniting established families. In her recap of the internship, she expressed her wonder for what would be asked of her. “My first day, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was I going to walk dogs? Feed cats? What did they need help with? Turns out, it was none of the above and so much more.”
During her internship, she reunited 29 animals and discovered that the average distance these animals had strayed was a mere 1.45 miles away from their home. In reflection she added, “I was really surprised by how much work goes on behind the scenes here. There’s so much to be done and I learned that the community, with volunteers and donations, really is an important part of helping the facility run.”
Individuals of all skill sets are needed at the local animal shelter. Whether you are an ace at data entry, a pro at editing video, have a gift of gab or anything in between, consider donating your time and talent to the animals in need of saving. The animals need each and every one of you!
Misty Valenta is the animal services director of the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter.